MOGADISHU: Somali security forces have liberated an Indian cargo ship from the pirates who hijacked it, but only two of the crew were rescued, authorities in central Somalia have said.
Abdulahi Ahmed Ali, district commissioner for the pirate-hub region of Hobyo, told local press yesterday that the "Al Kauser" ship had been held off the Indian Ocean coast near Yemen after the hijacking on March 31.
"We have the boat and two of the crew members but eight other members of the crew are still missing because the pirates took them off the boat," the commissioner said.
Ali said the two rescued crew members from India were healthy and that authorities were seeking their colleagues.
Their abductors are believed to be holding them near Hobyo.
The pirates had "refused a call by the local authorities to release the vessel and local forces forcefully engaged them," local security official Qoje Abdulahi told AFP by phone.
Somali security forces exchanged fire with the hijackers who fled to the shore aboard a fast boat, taking eight of their hostages with them, Ali said.
The Al Kauser was the third vessel seized by pirates in less than a month off the coast of Somalia, with experts warning that ships have lowered their guard in the five years since the height of the piracy crisis. The Indian ship was carrying cargo including wheat and sugar from Dubai via Yemen to Somalia's Bossaso port when it came under attack, owner Isaak Them told AFP.
The president of the Kutch Seafarers Association, Adam Them, from the western state of Gujarat where the vessel originated, told AFP last week that the pirates had made ransom demands.
Somali pirates began staging attacks in 2005, seriously disrupting a major international shipping route and costing the global economy billions of dollars.
At the peak of the piracy crisis in January 2011, 736 hostages and 32 boats were held.
Though anti-piracy measures ended attacks on commercial vessels, fishing boats have continued to face attacks sporadically.
However on March 13, pirates seized the Aris 13 oil tanker and eight Sri Lankan hostages in the first attack on a large merchant vessel by Somali pirates since 2012.
The pirates claimed to be driven by anger over illegal fishing in Somali waters which has long been seen as a key grievance behind piracy in the country.
While some hostages have been held for as long as five years, the pirates released the Aris 13 and its crew just four days after it was seized.
A week later a local cargo dhow was hijacked and taken out to sea, with the Oceans Beyond Piracy NGO warning it may be used as a "mother ship" for further attacks against larger vessels.